Study links excessive Internet use to teen school absence risk

Parents and experts have raised concerns about the impact of screens on young people's behaviour, cognitive abilities, and general well-being yet they won't be pleased by a study that shows the negative effects of heavy internet use on attendance at school. — AFP Relaxnews

From TV and games consoles to smartphones and computers, parents and specialists are worried about the effects of screens on young people's cognition, behaviour and well-being.

A Finnish study published in the journal Archives Of Disease In Childhood will do nothing to reassure them, since it highlights the impact of excessive internet use on school attendance.

The research team behind the study came to this conclusion after analysing data from a cohort of 86,270 schoolchildren, aged between 14 and 16. In particular, they focused on how much sleep these teenagers got, the relationships they had with their parents, and the number of days per week on which they were active for at least an hour.

The researchers also asked the young people to assess their use of the Internet to determine whether it had an impact on the quality of their sleep and diet, or whether it led them to neglect their loved ones and their studies.

It emerged that young people sleep an average of eight hours on weeknights and nine hours at weekends. However, a third of them sleep less than eight hours during the week, which is less than is recommended by specialists.

Another finding is that teenagers get relatively little physical activity in their daily lives. Boys were more likely than girls to be too sedentary. While many explanations can be suggested to explain these findings, the increase in time spent on screens could be a factor.

This phenomenon is not without consequences for young people's school lives. The study reveals that 3% to 4% of young people are often absent from class. Here again, there are gender differences. Boys are more likely to play truant than girls, who are more often absent for health reasons.

While young people are more likely to skip class as they get older, spending too much time online is also associated with an increased risk of truancy and medically explained school absences. Fortunately, there can be mitigating factors.

“Good parental relations, longer nightly weekday sleep, and physical activity all emerged as significantly protective, with more of each factor associated with a steadily decreasing risk of both truancy and school absences due to illness,” the researchers explain in a news release.

As alarming as the findings of this research may sound, they should be treated with caution, given that the study is, above all, observational.

Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that their findings "are relevant for professionals organising and working in school health and wellbeing services, especially when professionals meet students whose school absences raise concern." – AFP Relaxnews

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